Monday, March 16, 2009

Up In The Air

We would all like to think that our lives are never going to be “up in the air”. Ha! Well, welcome to life as it is, everyone! I remember in my childhood that our family often tried to make plans to do certain things and, as Mom would say, “Well, things are a little up in the air right now!” That was always bad news for me. It could mean that there was something stewing with one of my parents, or maybe a grandparent was not well just now, or it may even be some minor tactical glitch that needed some fine tuning, but it always created a sense of anxiety for me.

As the moment to step onto the plane at Halifax arrived, I knew that this was it. The adventure was beginning and would too soon be over and things would return to what we all like to call normal. How we come to that conclusion seems to be a matter of personal definition, but like I usually say, all things are relative in any case. What is normal for some may be extreme for others. Take this trip on which I embark for instance. Not everyone can step on a plane and feel totally comfortable and when asked how I would handle it I usually gave my pat answer, “ I can sleep on a rock!” and would leave it at that, unless of course the next larger question arose. “Aren’t you a bit afraid to fly with the latest crashes on everyone’s mind.?” I guess I live a little too lightly, hmm... maybe strangely then, but I am just comfortable with someone else at the wheel, even when it comes to flight? The only time I was really ever nervous was when a friend invited me to join him in his first new helicopter. It reminded me of a yellow casket and I refused his generous thought with as much class as possible. It wasn’t until he got a beautiful Robinson, and offered me flights in it, that I took him up on his offers... frequently too, I might add!

I digress... back at the airport in Halifax I was already missing having Karen and Ben there to see me off. I put my mind to the activity of taking it all in, trying to keep up with the latest security preps, and watching my fellow travellers as they made their way to the line-ups and into the fray. You never know how to take it all when it comes to security at airports. The constant putting on and taking off of clothing and accessories. Some airports want your belt, shoes, jackets and other items. That, along with scans, wands, widgets, questions and, always.... very sober looks. It is amazing that some people, in a rush to get to the lineups, will push and shove, barge in line and we even had a man running to take a spot at a custom’s counter. Shaking my head in disbelief, I just waved a go ahead to the disgruntled agent and later found that he was taken off for a more thorough search.... one person said, “ a strip search... serves him right!” while I am a little more lenient and just smiled. Boarding a plane, in terms of what we are really doing, is interesting. In the words of Mike Warnkey we are putting our lives aboard a cigar tube type missile that has all the potential of being unable to fly... kind of like the bumblebee. If your engines stop it is a long fall... up to 42 thousand feet at some times... but that isn’t bad... it is the landing......!

Halifax to Toronto, Toronto to Brussels, Belgium and on to Delhi, India. The last two were very long flights and were a bit tiring, as we flew across lots of time zones. Flight is interesting though. There is lots to do and I loved to watch the wings bounce up and down, as we hit air pockets, and the sounds of flight are as varied as they are many. I often wondered how families with small children made long flights. Not everyone likes to hear children crying in confined spaces and after 4-5 hours of nothing for a small child to do, their nerves can grow weary and tears begin to flow. I was amazed at the attendants on our aircraft. They quite often came, even when children were quiet and offered to hold them for a while, to give the parents a rest. One of our guys, Steve Hiltz, chipped in once and a while, as he had an aisle seat and loved to share the love with whoever needed a rest. There are movies to watch and, if I haven’t already mentioned it, lots of food to be eaten. I always knew that people seemed contented to fly, but figured like most, I guess, that it may have been what you went through to travel half way around the world. God is good, and even though the time on the ingoing flights did drag, I think it was because we were all anxious to get there and be about the work at hand.

Like most “up in the air” situations, flying has its come downs. Landing each time, whether in Toronto or in more exotic airports, had its moments. When we landed in Delhi, the crowds meeting the plane were minimal. The airport was crowded, but we were told that, if we had arrived at, say, mid-morning or afternoon, the place would have been packed, not only on the inside, but the outside as well. People there are anxious, due to their impoverished state, to have bits of employment and they all want to move your luggage (though you have to be cautious in this situation... there are thieves afoot) from one area to another, especially to the vehicles in the parking lot, and will expect lots of Ruppies to do it. If you don’t offer enough, they will argue with you. The drivers of the hired cars transporting us, allowed this for a while, but soon stepped in when it go to be a feeding frenzy with too many people competing for our luggage. Our hearts were often saddened by the poor jostling to have a piece of the rich men’s wealth, just by carrying our baggage. We don’t know how the other half lives and it didn’t matter that the luggage was tattered and old... they didn’t have baggage and most of them lived on the streets, some not even in shelters. God sees their needs, but humanity often doesn’t, and when we do... which one gets the favours... there are so many!

Delhi is a massive city and, like the others in India, is growing leaps and bounds. In fact, there are two cities, Old and New Delhi. There are also Old and New Bombay, Old and New Calcutta, though they are not always identified as such on the maps yet. The new cities are taking on the very commercial and urbanized look of modern urban centres. There is tension over who will live there and I am afraid that these areas of new growth are leaving behind the poor and the disenfranchised of the country. You ask yourself about the democratic type of the government, but you soon become aware that many of the local and provincial governments are still communist in nature and direction. People are the same everywhere, no matter where you travel.

The economic and social stratification of the people is clearly seen, and attempts to cross those gaps are difficult. We often saw how easily people overlook others or exclude them all together. It was hard not to fall into that mode, for instance, while shopping on the return home. In the milieu of the markets, there are thousands of people and, in some places, they are shoulder to shoulder. You have to hold on to everything tightly because white foreigners are open to being robbed. Everywhere, people want to get something from you; people selling items all want your attention and your money and the beggars are everywhere. They are relentless in their efforts and will not take no for an answer. Young boys carry babies that are crying. They hold out empty milk bottles and plead for your sympathies. You have to understand their motives and who has hired them or you would go crazy with guilt. One lady followed me for blocks, holding on and often grabbing or just circling my every move. We were finally saved by a street merchant who knew the woman and her efforts and, gladly, he was offering the merchandise we were looking for. It is easy to ask the question, “Why does God allow such poverty?” Then it strikes you... God watches, we allow it to happen and continue... and then we go on... it is humanity’s trouble.

I would like to say that the whole trip was like flying... up in the air, but secure, so to speak. We were catered to and pampered, but on the ground in India it is a different story for the nationals. Mankind must soon take a look at what faces the many millions (perhaps billions now) of those others whose battle to survive is a daily quest. I long to go back and spend one day at a time to do what I can to help. It may seem like a small spoon stirring in circles in a corner of Lake Superior and expecting to create a giant vortex, but, one mouth fed, one life changed or saved, means there is hope at least. I will be looking at the exercise of the doing of ministry in the days ahead, along with plans for the future. I hope you do not get discouraged, God is not finished with humanity yet! I know He is faithful to me and faithful to His creation... it is now our turn! But, maybe that is still a bit, “Up in the air!”for some.